Why Doesn't Calling My Dog's Name Work Anymore?
Do dogs know their names? Of course they do. In the movies, pups come running when called. In real life, though, calling out your dog's name doesn't always get his attention. It can be frustrating to feel like he's ignoring you. It could also result in him running off and possibly getting into harm's way. The good news is that he probably isn't snubbing you on purpose. In most cases, the issue is fixable with time and patience.
Four Reasons Your Dog's Not Responding to You
1. He needs more training
Dog trainers use the term "reliable recall" to refer to near-certainty that your dog will come when called. It can take three to six months of daily practice for dogs to learn reliable recall, and dog parents may give up before training has sunk in. Even if your pooch does learn to come when called, you might not be able to trust him to come every time. If he spots a another dog or something else that's far more interesting than you, he may be gone in a flash. With enough training, though, he should respond to his name most of the time. The key is to keep the positive reinforcement going and don't give up.
2. He's confused
An adopted dog who once had a different name might not recognize a new one. It's usually fine to give your new best friend a name you picked out. Some dogs, often older ones who've been called the same thing for years, though, are too set in their ways to learn a new name.
You can still try to introduce a new name. Encourage an older or stubborn dog to respond to a new name the same way you would teach a puppy. This can take a lot of time, patience, and repetition. If he's not picking up on it, it might be best to keep the name he already knows. You don't want to risk putting him in tricky situations if he can't or won't learn his new name.
3. He doesn't like the name
Some adopted dogs may have negative associations with their old name. For example, a dog may have learned that responding to his name results in being mistreated. In that case, it's understandable your rescue pup is reluctant to come when called. It may be better to give him a new name. Be patient as he gets used to it. He'll start to learn that it's OK to come to you when you call.
4. He has an age-related health issue
If your aging dog stops coming when you call, hearing loss or another age-related health concern could be the culprit, since he could be reluctant to get up or move. Before you go back to recall training, talk with your vet. A physical or neurological ailment might be keeping your dog from coming to you on command.
Reteaching Your Dog His Name
Getting your best bud to answer to his name won't happen automatically. It takes training and encouragement for him to understand your meaning.
You'll want to build on positive associations. Start by saying your dog's name and looking at him as you give him a treat. Then try saying his name when he's not looking at you. When he looks over, immediately give him enthusiastic praise along with a treat. Once he gets the hang of that, move a short distance away and do it again. Practice again and again, moving farther away and using different locations. Focus on positive reassurance every time he gets it right. Try involving another person and taking turns calling your pupper so that he'll recognize his name when other people say it. Keep practicing and don't give up.
Dos and Don'ts for an Unresponsive Dog
Here are some suggestions for how to handle your pup if he doesn't respond to his name when you call.
DO use a positive, happy tone of voice when you say his name.
DO be consistent, using the same command with his name when you want him to come to you.
DO reward him for coming to you when you call. Let him know that will always make him feel secure.
DON'T reprimand your dog for something after you've called him to you. This could make him wary of responding in the future. When you need to correct him, go over to him.
DON'T let your dog go off-leash in an unfenced area if he doesn't reliably come when called.
Unless the issue is health-related, you can usually improve your dog's recall. Positive reinforcement, a good attitude, and building trust with him will help. Make your buddy excited to come running at the sound of his name — just like the dogs we love in the movies.